Cannes Lions

Mobile Ads Are a 'Disastrous' Afterthought, Says Cannes Ad Blocking Panel

Call for Industry to Push for Better Creative, Less Intrusive Ad Formats

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Randall Rothenberg, President-CEO, IAB.
Randall Rothenberg, President-CEO, IAB. Credit: Courtesy IAB.
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It's no secret that the Interactive Advertising Bureau has a contentious relationship with ad blockers. Nearly every time the IAB talks about ad blocking it takes the opportunity to call out ad blockers such as AdBlock Plus, Shine and others, referring to them as for profit companies, and even "extortionists," conducting an assault on the ad industry for having certain companies pay them to have ads whitelisted.

The "Block You: Why World Class Creativity Will Obliterate Ad Blocking" panel at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Monday, hosted by Randall Rothenberg, president-CEO of the IAB, began in a similar fashion. But Mr. Rothenberg said while he thought the ad blockers are extortionists, the panel would focus more on the digital media industry creating the problem that drives consumers to want to block ads, thanks in part to a "bloated" supply chain.

Mr. Rothenberg urged the industry to band together, saying they needed to serve people and not impressions through better creative. Advertisers, agencies and publishers need to offer ads that provide a utility to consumers or makes them want to engage in some other way, he said.

This isn't a new argument, but consumers might challenge the industry's assessment that people may be less inclined to download ad blockers if the creative is better. Sometimes the ads can be intrusive and annoying to users, such as when a video ad will autoplay with audio on.

Jess Greenwood, VP-content and partnerships at Interpublic's R/GA, said during the presentation that often agencies and marketers will simply take creative that runs on desktop and use it on mobile. Mobile advertising, she said, is a "disastrous" afterthought, which is hugely problematic because mobile screens are much smaller than desktop ones and therefore mobile ads feel that much more intrusive. People are so averse to mobile ads that most people don't mean to click on them. About 60% of clicks on mobile banner ads, she said, are clicked on mistakenly.

She noted that platforms like Snapchat and Facebook have been offering better mobile-native ad formats, with the former's Canvas ad product akin to a an immersive branded content play.

Like Mr. Rothenberg, she said that better creative and less intrusive ad formats with better targeting on the mobile web could stem the growth of ad blocking.

The root of digital ad blocking is digital ads, said Mark Thompson, president-CEO at The New York Times Company. He said that the industry needs to prioritize educating consumers that publishers' content is valuable, and that they should pay for it. The New York Times recently announced that it would offer an ad-free subscription. He added that while the Times has worked to offer engaging branded content, with marketers such as GE, but it is difficult to scale and that's something publishers need to work around. In other words, it can't be the only solution.

All agreed that the practice of asking consumers to consider turning off their ad blockers or whitelisting their publication is not a viable long-term option. Given the option to do the right thing or to get something for free, consumers will always choose free, said Ms. Greenwood.